Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
When I pick up a book by Bill Bryson, I know I am going to be engaged as a reader. For a seemingly academic piece of writing, Shakespeare is relatively informal, brief in its observations, and quickly dismissive of theories (which abound in their thousands) about who the bard really was. So many books have been written about Shakespeare, how could a slim volume like this add something new to the debate?
Earlier in the year, my attention had been caught by the Globe to Globe season of Shakespeare’s plays in foreign languages, which were all staged at the Globe Theatre in London. Most of the world’s major languages, and many of the minor languages (Swahili, Yiddish, Maori, Iraqi and sign language, to name but a few) were represented. I’d had the good fortune to secure tickets for Henry IV part 1 (Mexican Spanish) and part 2 (Argentinian Spanish) and for Henry VIII (Castilian Spanish). The Globe had been all a-buzz with the whole experience, and thousands had paid their £5 to stand as ‘groundlings’ in the yard, thus recreating something of the Tudor experience of play-going.
The astonishing thing about Shakespeare, the man (as Bryson notes) is that, despite the volume of his writings and his huge success as a playwright, so little is really known about him. If he had lived today, he would have written his autobiography by the age of 30. But Shakespeare had not even made provision for his own plays to be published, let alone leave any personal reflections in the form of a diary. Because of this strange anonymity, the theories about his true identity have abounded: could he have really been Francis Bacon, or Edward de Vere (Earl of Oxford), or even Christopher Marlowe (who is supposed to have died prematurely anyway).
Whatever the answers, Bryson has made Shakespeare, the man, accessible to the masses. It is a worthy read.